Chef Sanjana Patel | Global Indian

For the love of chocolate: La Folie by Sanjana Patel brings haute patisserie to Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda

Written by: Bindu Gopal Rao

(February 18, 2024) For a decade now, Chef Sanjana Patel’s La Folie has elevated the French haute pâtisserie and chocolatery scene and continues to forge new paths.

As a 14 year old, Sanjana Patel would love seeing her grandmother, a baker, work in her kitchen. It inspired her to start baking with her. As her grandmother loved gardening, she has fond memories of summer holidays spent making carrot halwa cake from carrots picked from her garden. “I was always excited about making everything with chocolate. Even today, I carry with me a lot of things I learned from her, you will find these practices in my kitchen even today. One significant thing that I learned from here is localisation and sustainability, which you will find intertwined with La Folie’s philosophy and practices,” Chef Sanjana tells Global Indian.

Chef Sanjana Patel, founder, La Folie

Starting out

Patel did her early education at Maneckji Cooper and JB Petit and finished high school at St Hilda’s in Ooty. In 2005, she moved to the UK and started at Le Cordon Bleu, College of Culinary Arts in London, followed by Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi in Paris, where she earned a master’s in baking and Patisserie. Then, she moved to the University of Surrey for an M.Sc. in Food Science Management with honours in Chocolate Technology and did an M.Sc. in Marketing and Strategy at the University of Warwick (Warwick Business School). In 2008, she finished her master’s diploma C.A.P in bakery and patisserie with distinction at Ecole Gregoire Ferrandi in Paris. She then stayed in Europe for seven years and worked with chefs like Pierre Hermé, Jean-Charles Rochoux, Patrick Roger, Camille Lesecq, and Olivier Bajard.  She also worked at award-winning restaurants like Hotel Le Meurice and Hotel Plaza Athénée in the Dorchester Collection under chefs like Christophe Michalak and Chef Alain Ducasse, among others.

The La Folie journey

In 2013, she decided to return to India and began her journey with La Folie as she opened the first outlet in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai a decade ago in January 2014. “My love for chocolate partially stemmed from Chocolaterie Jean-Charles Rochoux, where I served as a Chocolatier Intern. This experience has been the grounding stone of my journey into the world of chocolate,” she says. At La Folie she has introduced unique French haute creations. “Those things were very new, and people were not subjected to these kinds of tastes. So, a lot of education went in to help people understand what we were doing. However, over the years, I feel that with experimental cuisines expanding in India, people are now more open to trying out new flavours and foods,” she adds.

For someone who always wanted to offer something different, she started La Folie with a focus on natural flavours and says that now people appreciate their philosophy of using natural ingredients and the unique taste they bring. “My affair with chocolate began as a passionate hobby and soon cascaded into a magical journey of discovering myself through craft chocolate, a journey that led me on an adventurous road trip to numerous cacao farms across the world, to its native origins! The deeper I go, the more intrigued I am. Even chocolate tasting for me is not just biting into that heavenly piece but it is about setting on the journey of Emotions, Conversations, and Nostalgia. The more you taste, the more you indulge and build experiences with yourself and with others,” she adds.

‘Chocolate tech’

In 2017, after a leg injury, Patel revisited the concept of making her own craft chocolate as she wanted to offer a different sensorial journey and taste to the Indian consumer and ultimately it had to be tied to the very source of chocolate, cacao. “I take an instinctive approach towards what I do, and not bounding myself by flavours, moulds, or recipes, but find my inspiration in trends, my journey, and experiences that have influenced me. I have always strived to explore ingredients and chocolates at the core, experimenting with ways to create an experience for the patrons. Also, as a Chocolate Technologist, I have not bound myself just to taste profiles, but have also collaborated with product designers to create customised chocolate moulds that elevate the chocolate experience to an art form,” she says. Incidentally, in 2016, she introduced a heartfelt journey ‘Down the Memory Lane’ with the creation of ‘Grandma’s Carrot Cake’ and this nostalgic masterpiece served as a heartfelt tribute to her grandmother.

Gender bender

For someone who has not seen gender biases, and in fact has never seen herself as being different as a female, Patel believes in making an impact and creating sustainable growth and a future for one’s vision and one’s passion. “I feel blessed having to do that slowly and steadily and changing chefs’ and global culinary enthusiasts’ approach to chocolate. It’s a happy place for me to see my customer’s appreciation for our products and indirectly how it impacts at the farm level. I wish to continue doing that and building a stronger sustainable network across this field,” she avers. In her journey she has learnt many life lessons and one of them being the most important is to follow your vision and not get entangled in the vicious world of competition. “Staying and believing true to your identity will always take you forward strongly in a long way and yes always be willing to share knowledge and learn from others – there is nothing in withholding and being conservative about how your knowledge will be used,” she advises.

Looking ahead

Now, one of the most important tasks for her is to work towards creating farmer co-operative programmes that can benefit the farmers to raise funds and improve crop fertility. “We also want to work towards government support through grants, funds and sponsorships for the post-harvesting process and crop yields. We want to create a supply chain system for the farmers where they can liaise with other chocolate makers with pre-order systems. This will empower the farmers to have economic support and eradicate uncertainty,” she says. And she is looking at making La Folie products available across tier one and tier two cities, as well as export orders for European and Middle Eastern countries. As someone who straddles the tightrope of nostalgia with global inspirations, Patel is making the case for craft chocolate in her own unique way.

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